When the secrets you find in most made-for-TV movies are such things as terminal illness, incest, adultery and murder, an earnest family drama such as "The Secret" ought to be welcome relief.
And star Kirk Douglas, not often seen on television, ought to bring some entertaining weight to the CBS Sunday Movie at 9 p.m. on WBAL-TV (Channel 11).
Unfortunately, amid all their obvious good intentions, the moviemakers apparently forgot that some element of believability is vital to entertainment.
Within half an hour of this film's start, viewers may find themselves talking back to the screen characters: "Figure it out, already. They can't read. It's a learning disability. They can address such things now. Talk to each other."
For the family secret of "The Secret" turns out to be dyslexia, and no suspense is being ruined by revealing it here.
Viewers can also learn a lesson about questionable promotion from the network advertising on this film. A full-page ad in TV Guide seems intended to stir up echoes of those other kinds of movies, asserting, "an old lie threatens three generations of fathers and sons. But there's still time to set them free."
Wow! Who would imagine this is just a preachy movie with an educational theme?
Douglas plays the avuncular owner of a small grocery in a Cape Cod resort town that's pretty as a postcard (even if the movie was really filmed a bit farther away in Nova Scotia). Recently widowed, he finds new purpose in life when some townspeople ask him to run for selectman.
Douglas' grandson (Jesse R. Tendler) is the light of his life, but his own son (Bruce Boxleitner), a cranberry grower, seems to have a grudge against the old man.
The veteran actor makes a good grandpa, with long white hair and a wispy white mustache. A few more months of growing, and he'd look like Samuel L. Clemens. Viewers may also be reminded of Douglas' role in "The Man from Snowy River."
The boy's learning disability finally comes out in school, of course, although rather surprisingly not until the end of third grade. His father stubbornly refuses to believe there is a problem, but granddad recognizes his own failings in the boy.
The movie's most effective sequence comes when the old man takes the boy to Boston on the bus for testing. Neither can read well enough to follow signs, and you begin to get a sense of what the world must seem like without a grasp of written words.
But the film takes forever to work its way to an implausible, feel-good emotional climax.
ROLE MODELS -- A strong message is also the point of another Sunday night show, but at least "Success Through Education: A Salute to Black Achievement" makes no pretense about it.
The special (at 7 p.m. tomorrow on WJZ-Channel 13) is "an hourlong television program for African-American students," according to its accompanying teacher's guide, and the message is basically the importance of pursuing a good education.
More specifically, a series of profiles of successful black individuals urges students to consider schooling in technical fields. The show is connected to the recent sixth annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards held in Baltimore, and the production firm is a local company, Career Communications Group.
In the show, rap stars Heavy D and MC Lyte and actress Kellie Williams ("Family Matters") sit down in the City College library to talk with Baltimore high school students about the importance of finding role models in their lives. Baltimore School for the Arts graduate Jada Pinkett (who is in the TV show "A Different World") also is seen briefly in a taped message.
As with much worthwhile TV programming aimed at youth problems, the program runs the risk of "preaching to the choir," rather than those most in need of its message. For clearly, the local students who make comment are bright, insightful young people.
But that emphasizes the point, too. As one youth observes, "we have the perception that all role models should be famous."
Instead, this show merely presents a number of successful figures whose words are worth hearing.